There is a significant amount of legislation that affects small business owners. Researching, understanding and making sense of it all takes time – time small business owners normally don’t have. That’s where the National Federation of Independent Business comes in. With a mission to promote and protect the right of its members to own, operate and grow their businesses, the group is a small business owner’s advocate when it comes to legislation at both a state and federal level.
The NFIB is a member-driven organization, but stands out among business associations for its structure. For example, a business might have to join local, state and federal chambers of commerce to receive benefits at various levels, but the NFIB offers more of a one-stop-shop for legislation.
“We keep tabs not only on laws being created in Ohio, but Congress too,” says Member Support Manager Jesse Jones.
In Ohio, the NFIB has the largest membership of all 50 sates with 24,000 member businesses represented.
“The only two criteria to be a member of NFIB is you are not publicly traded and you are for profit,” says Communications Director Andy Patterson. In Ohio, businesses with less than 20 employees make up 85 percent of NFIB’s members. Membership is also open to all industries. The most prominent industries in Ohio run the gamut, including services, retail, construction, manufacturing and agriculture.
Membership gives a business access to a host of benefits, however, one of the biggest advantages is a vote towards advocacy efforts and support understanding legislation.
The NFIB sends out ballots to each of its members asking their stance on four issues expected to pop up in general assembly the coming year. The group’s focus is on bigger-picture efforts that affect most business owners like healthcare, regulatory reform, tax reform and unemployment insurance. A common thread, they are all issues that cost business owners time and money.
For example, much of the group’s efforts this year focused on House Bill 5. House Bill 5 offered a municipal income tax reform package. Ohio had one of the most convoluted municipal tax systems that made tax returns a virtual nightmare for businesses with a mobile workforce. Recently signed into law, the bill pushed for uniformity and simplicity in the system.
A majority of NFIB members have to be in agreement for the organization to take a stance on an issue. If the ballot would reveal a 50-50 vote, they generally will not advocate one way or the other.
There is one issue that is consistently on all small business owners’ radar. Healthcare. Every four years the NFIB Research Foundation does a problems and priorities study, “Healthcare is always ranked number one,” Patterson says.
In terms of business expenses, “Typically for our members after payroll, health insurance is next,” Patterson continues. “Health insurance is a huge cost for companies that can afford to offer it.”
When it comes to big issues like healthcare, the NFIB advocates for small business-friendly positions and reforms. Aside from their advocacy efforts, the organization helps business owners understand what any mandates mean for them or how any changes in the Affordable Care Act might affect them.
Education is a huge part of the organization’s mission. Area action councils split the state into districts that provide localized access to elected officials and education on current legislation. Through the councils, small business owners can collectively voice their opinion to officials or gain an understanding of how new laws like the smoking ban or a raise in minimum wage will affect their business.
Membership also includes information on NFIB-endorsed candidates come election time. A non-partisan effort, the organization backs candidates that are small business friendly. They are also able to provide voting record information so members can see how small-business conscious an elected official is.
Outside of legislation, the group provides access to other resources like their three foundations. The Research Foundation tracks trends in the small business world. The Small Business Legal Center offers many different resources, including help with things like how to create business policies. The Young Entrepreneur Foundation provides scholarships to high school students that have started their own businesses.
At the end of the day, the organization strives to give business owners a chance to succeed.
“We just try to be a resource for them,” Patterson says.
While many small business owners might feel powerless, the NFIB wants to give them a voice.
“They just look to us to carry their message,” Jones says. As they put it, small business owners are the ones taking a risk, often putting it all on the line to succeed. With the responsibility of their livelihood and that of their employees, “if we can alleviate any of that worry by representing them to elected officials,” Jones says, it’s a great thing.
For more information, visit nfib.com.